Opinion: Daily Journal

Alcohol election results provide more proof residents want freedom to choose

Say you want a fidget spinner. Well, if you have a few bucks for one, then you go buy it.

Same goes for a burger. Lots of choices, lots of options.

Then, say, you want a mixed drink at your favorite local restaurant. If the town or city in which you live allows so-called liquor-by-the-drink, you sit down and order that Old Fashioned you’ve craved all day.

If your town, though, doesn’t allow such mixed drinks, you’re just plain out of luck. For a while, anyway, and only if sufficient local will exists to allow restaurants to sell such drinks. First, the local governing body — i.e., city council — must be persuaded to place an alcohol referendum on the ballot for a coming election, which could be months away. Voters must then approve the move, which could take weeks or even months to implement. 

Not exactly an express lane or drive-thru, but that’s what happens when the state, or, in actuality, local municipalities, control a product, and thus, your freedom to choose and to spend your money as you see fit.

But the way North Carolina sees liquor is changing, for the betterment of consumers. State lawmakers this session passed several measures, which the governor signed into law, easing restrictions on N.C. craft distillers and liquor sales, including allowing distillers to sell more of their own products from their own places of business.

North Carolina remains a control state, one of only 17 in the country. It’s also the only state that governs liquor locally, via 170 politically entrenched boards.

A bill from Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, the Modern Licensure Model for Alcohol Control, would basically clear a path for private liquor stores in North Carolina. House Bill 971 would eliminate the state-run alcohol warehouses in Raleigh and phase out the local ABC boards and stores. The bill got a hearing this year but no vote. 

McGrady isn’t seeking re-election, and it’s a bit unclear which lawmaker will pick up the guidon. It is clear, however, the ranks of the Army of Prohibition in North Carolina are dwindling. Or, that army is just plain tired. Or, more likely, it realizes it’s fighting the proverbial losing battle, so it’s best to cut its losses and gather the remnants of the state’s 80-year-old liquor laws.

Eleven towns, The Insider reports, approved alcohol sales, in one form or another, on Tuesday. Tiny Saluda, which straddles Polk and Henderson counties, overwhelmingly approved mixed-drink sales, as just 36 of 157 voters opposed the ballot measure. Bethania, outside Winston-Salem, approved mixed drinks as well. Siler City in Chatham County approved the sale of malt beverages and unfortified wine, albeit by relatively slim margins.

Cultural norms are shifting. Residents of towns across the state, both young and old, are realizing consumers have options, and one of those options is spending their money in another town, another part of the state, or another state altogether. Why not spend it here, they now say?

“I’m just stunned at how much progress we’re making,” McGrady told me earlier this year. “I mean, it took us about 100 years to get here. Really, in four or five years we’ve gotten a lot of movement. A few more (lawmaker) retirements over the years and, more importantly, more exposure, as these little small businesses — distilleries, breweries, cideries, wineries — become part of the community, those legislators are going to recognize that. They’ve got a lot at stake, and these things bring people into the area. I think we’re winning the battle.”